Guest column by Daniel Espiritu, freshman political science major
To the people of Chapman University,
Orange County is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis. Orange County Public Works is moving forward with a project that supposedly aims to strengthen the area’s irrigation control system. However, this project includes placing many large rocks and boulders along the Santa Ana riverbed. For those who may not be familiar with the area, the Santa Ana riverbed is now being dubbed by locals as “Skid River” due to the fact that hundreds of homeless individuals in Orange County have set up their residence there; particularly between Katella Avenue and Chapman Avenue. This construction project is expected to last from February to June, according to OC Weekly, and has already began displacing people.
For many of Skid River’s residents, this development has been absolutely devastating. In the early days of the project, the gates were locked and guarded by officers, according to Orange County Register, effectively trapping those without the physical capacity to walk long miles or climb fences. Their possessions have already been confiscated, according to Orange County Public Works. They are being told to report to local homeless shelters, according to the Orange County Register, most of which will refuse them if they attempt to bring their possessions or registered pets. And even if they go as far as to surrender their property, the shelters on the list provided by the county are either at capacity or not yet in operation. This leaves most with no choice but to return to an urban-nomadic, and dangerous life and constantly be kicked out of every public place imaginable.
For years, the people of Orange County have watched their own government put property value before the value of life. Gentrification has driven people from their homes. Crumbling, underfunded schools continue to fail students. More and more people are turning to criminal activity in order to make ends meet. The homeless population continues to rise. According to the 2015 biennial homeless census, there were an estimated 4,452 homeless people living in Orange County in 2015, demonstrating a 5 percent increase since 2013. It is clear that local government, both at the city and county level, has failed. Let this be very clear: The county government has chosen to address the issue of the flooding of an empty river during Southern California’s worst drought in recent history, rather than address the issue of rapidly increasing homelessness and poverty. In fact, the government is making matters worse for those who need help.
Many of the people being evicted from the Skid River are struggling with addiction, are fighting a medical condition, and/or are physically or mentally disabled. These people need food, they need housing and education. They need medical treatment. And most of all, they need to be viewed as actual human beings by their neighbors.
It is time for our local government to act on behalf of its constituents and declare that Orange County will not allow any violation of human rights to happen in our backyards. The students of Chapman University are taking a stand. We are asking people to put political differences aside and participate in what we are calling a mass call-in on Tuesday, Feb.14. We are asking students to call both the Orange County Public Works, to demand that the department recommit itself to serving all of the constituents of Orange County, and the Orange County third district supervisor Todd Spitzer to demand that he do all in his power to bring an end to this embarrassing example of representative democracy. We also ask that those who do participate encourage any friends, family or associates living in Orange County to participate, as well.
We are also planning to speak at an OC public forum on the same day (Feb. 14) at 9 a.m. and personally voice the same demands.